Monday, November 30th, 2015


One of the reasons this job is one of the toughest for a CEO is because she or he will only do it once.  It makes it hard to get right or to learn from a mistake.
And it has huge ramifications for your organization. What is it?  Leaving!

Many CEO’s don’t get to choose when they leave a company. There is a sudden move on the Board’s part or deterioration of power or a distancing from the ranks of the organization.  The choice is made for the CEO and the shift in power happens quickly and the organization adapts.  

Managing your own demise is a whole different animal. It demands the utmost
professional maturity and gracefulness.  I’ve seen it done seamlessly well and I’ve seen it done awkwardly awful. 


—The organization senses when there is leadership change in the air. People talk and betray confidences, people observe,  people talk and surmise, the gossip  level picks up. Energy focuses inward rather than out to the consumer.

—Usually the CEO has given indicators of possible successors. They know it and everyone else knows it.  It’s good to create a little competition and give challenges to see who steps up. It’s bad to allow a 3-4 person slate last too long. People begin to align behind “candidates” to align their future career of in honest support. It becomes a silent but powerful campaign atmosphere not good for the business.

—Candidates get goofy when they smell the possibility of the top job. The get overly nice and politic.  They spend more time in private conversation with colleagues “plotting” strategy.  The two worst thing are that the possible successors get inauthentic and lose support or they become incredibly cautious and conservative in all arenas.  They are “on hold”. Bad for the business.

—The CEO also gets goofy and deserves the right to be so. She or he has
been in a deep relationship with the organization for years. They are headed for a kind of free-fall of power. And so a CEO can get crabby and picky OR back off the role too soon and become a kind of good-will ambassador. Not great for the organization.

—Strategy can get stalled. Who owns it?  Who should create it?  The leaving CEO won’t be there to support it and the ‘candidates’ won’t seize the moment for fear of over-stepping.  Not great for the business.

—Timing is tricky. When to announce the CEO retirement or leaving?  How close to tie it to announcing a successor?  When is the change the easiest on the organization?  When does one know the choice is right?

—Who else will leave and what does that mean for the business? Planning for who you might lose is as important as choosing the successor.

See what I mean—-the hardest job CEO’s ever have to do and only one chance to do it right.


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